Presuming competence goes both ways

Hat tip to Michael Scott Monje Jr for writing the line that led me to this train of thought.

The title sentence is something that’s been ringing in my head ever since I first read the linked poem, and it was hard at first to find the right words to explain why. But now I think I have.

Autistic and disabled people in general do others a grave disservice when we assume they’re ignorant in spite of evidence to the contrary. We do them the same disservice we protest against when it’s done to us. We presume them incompetent. We presume others incompetent of knowing and meaning what they say.

It’s wrong of us to do that. And we hurt ourselves to do that. By educating a brick wall over and over and over again, we waste our own time, energy and spoons. Those of us with PTSD have triggered flashbacks in themselves. People with mental and chronic illnesses have triggered flareups. Others, myself included, have triggered meltdowns.

We need to stop.

We need to accept that someone might know that what they say is harmful, know that it’s hurtful, know that it’s wrong, and not care. We need to accept that someone might know the full impact of what they’re saying, and mean it. We need to presume that others are competent to form harmful, bigoted opinions and to act on them in bullying and abusive ways. Even if they are otherwise seemingly-nice people.

We need to presume competence. We need to presume that others are capable of educating themselves, capable of thoughtful self-evaluation, and capable of changing.  And, as a corollary of the prior, we need to presume that if they do not after being given ample opportunity and in the absence of some reason why they can’t, it is not because they haven’t been educated enough, but rather because they choose not to.

I will no longer presume that people who act in abusive and bullying ways after being asked to stop have simply not been asked in the right way. I will have more respect for them than that. I will presume competence, and realize that they mean to hurt, they mean what they say, and they are choosing to behave that way. People can choose to be mean.

Presuming competence must go both ways.

Yet more counter-productive antibullying efforts.

So. Yeah. I’m sure those in the autistic community are well aware of this, but an autistic boy recently was humiliated in a very specific and degrading manner by bullies in his community. His parents then decided to compound the humiliation by going to the news and sharing the story – and the video of the incident – internationally.

Neurodivergent K already has a good take on this incident, and I direct you to her blog. The gist of her post is basically this: If you’re trying to counteract bullying, then for the love of all you hold dear in this world, don’t do what the bullies want.

In my post, I’m going to say: if you’re trying to counteract bullying, don’t amplify the bullying. By which I mean: This boy was already humiliated. He was already going to be the subject of gossip at the school for the next approximately until he graduates (judging from my experiences growing up). Then, his parents – assumably with he best intentions in the universe, wanting to raise awareness of bullying – share the video internationally.

Do you thing people in the region (they gave their region, by the way) are not going to talk? Holy flying hell in a handbasket, people. From experience in my school: I was humiliated in a very specific and very embarrassing way by some bullies as a kid. I will not detail the experience, but suffice to say it happened (in more than one way, actually – bullies are terrible people). One time, I made the mistake of telling an adult when they asked about some jokes kids were making. Then an assembly was called at school, and the principle lectured the entire school on how it’s not at all okay to do [very specific thing that happened to me] to another person.

If it was possible to melt into my seat or burst into flames on the spot, I would have. Instead, what had been an isolated incident of bullying where the bullies hadn’t told anyone because they were afraid they would get into trouble became the talk of the school. And my humiliation was compounded.

That’s what those parents did to that boy. Except, instead of it being just the school, they humiliated him in front of their entire community. People will talk. They’ll find out who and how and where and when. That’s what they do. And if his parents think he was dealing with bullying before this happened, it’s got nothing on the number of pranks that will be done to see exactly how gullible and bullyable he is in the coming months. His parents just gave the fucking green light to every single nasty prank anyone in his school thinks of, and they painted a hugeass target right on his back.

And they probably don’t realize it.

But that’s not through this being an impossible-to-anticipate consequence. Even though autistic people are supposedly the ones with empathy deficits, it’s because the parents are displaying an extraordinary lack of empathy for their son.

Parents, think of it this way: Think back to when you were a teenager. Think about something someone else did to you that you found very hurtful and humiliating. Think about that. If it’s not an incident of similar severity to what happened to this kid, amplify the humiliation accordingly. Now, ask yourself, “When I was a teenager, would I have wanted my parents to share this incident internationally?”

I am pretty much certain that the answer to that question is “No. No, no, no, no, no. Not in a million years. No.”

Parents, your kids have thoughts and emotions and feelings, and not just about what their bullies do to them. They also have thoughts and emotions and feelings about what you do to them. Think about how you would have felt as a teenager about your parents doing something to you, then decide whether you want to inflict those feelings on your kid. Think about whether or not you would’ve wanted something shared before you share it. Better yet, ask your kid’s permission before you share something concerning them. And let them have the final say. Because you’re not the one who has to live with the fallout. They are.

How disingenuous can you get?

So, not only did Autism Speaks quote Kassiane Sibley without her permission, portraying a well-known and vehemently anti-Autism Speaks autistic advocate as if she was a supporter of theirs.

They then claimed to have permission on her blog.

They then claimed they would take it down.

They instead white-texted it.

They finally took it down after being called on it…

… then they changed the URL and quietly put the white-texted version back up sometime last year.

Alyssa of Yes, That Too has a much better run-down of the whole thing here.

Their white texting makes their toolkit – in which they’re still using her words without her permission – come up on the first page of Google when you search her name. For some permutations, it comes up even before Kassiane’s own sites.

I won’t say this is a new low, because that would minimize all of the other vile shit they’ve done in the past few years (like partnering with an organization denounced at the UN for its torture of disabled people, driving their autistic members to resign in protest of their demonization of autism, and using racist dogwhistles to dismiss their critics, among many many many many others). It is, unfortunately, par for the course.

And, believe me, the irony of an organization that paints people like me and Alyssa and Kassiane as “not living” and possessed by demons finding it necessary to steal an autistic person’s work and go to such lengths to keep stealing it is not lost on me.

But this standard-operating-low hurts a friend of mine, and so it makes me angry. Tell Autism Speaks that they need to stop being disingenuous assholes and take that shit down.

“For my own good” isn’t.

Trigger warning: some discussion of abuse and gender norm enforcement.

I have a thing against people doing stuff for my own good or in my best interest without consulting me first. If you don’t like me getting angry with you, don’t do that. I might not show my anger now, or the next time or even the time after that because my parents socialized me hard to never stand up for myself, but eventually, I’ll hit the point of can’t-take-it-anymore and explode at you.

And you will deserve it.

Especially if you know that my parents socialized me into never standing up for myself and so I have a hard time saying, “No, I actually don’t want that.”

Why?

Well, most importantly, because nobody knows my wants and needs better than me. So not consulting me on something that concerns me = not cool. When you do that, you’re saying you know my wants and needs at least as well as I do. And you don’t. Secondly, because it’s infantilizing to me to try to treat me like a child who can’t advocate for herself. I know my own best interests. Ask me.

Finally, because people in my past have historically been very dishonest when they claim to be doing stuff in my best interest or for my own good. When people have told me that they’re doing something in my best interest, what they usually really mean is one of three things: “I’m trying to justify abusive behavior,” “It’s in my best convenience,” or “it’s what I want for you, and I don’t give a shit what you want.”
My parents would – and still do – justify abusive behavior by arguing that physical and emotional abuse was for my own good because I needed “discipline.” How threatening to strip a 14-year-old naked in public and spank her is discipline and not emotional and probably sexual abuse, I don’t know. To me, that’s not discipline, that’s abuse. To me, they weren’t doing it for my own good, they were doing it to vent their spleens.

My parents and teachers would frequently argue that refusing me accommodations was in my best interest because it would teach me patience, diligence, organization, and discipline. It didn’t actually teach me any of those. What it taught me was that I’m a bad person (because my boredom intolerance made me act out which got me painted as a problem kid), that people with power will make you do pointless makework just for their own amusement and you can’t fight back, that might makes right (because my parents would physically restrain and force me to complete work I’d refused because it was pointless) and that I should just shut up and take abuse because if I try to stand up for myself, things get worse for me. It didn’t do me any good at all, but it did save them the work of setting up proper accommodations. Fancy that.

My parents would frequently ignore my actual interests to make me do activities with my sister instead. They argued that it was in my best interest to do more social activities. What they actually wanted was for my sister’s social competence and social butterfly characteristics to rub off on me. They didn’t. And, again, not in my best interest to spend time at stuff I didn’t want to do and be refused the chance to do stuff I did want to do. And I wonder, if I’d met kids with whom I had some common ground, if I might have had more friends during grade school than I did when my parents were trying their damnedest to sand off my corners and force me into that round hole they wanted me to go through. I’ll never know, though, because my parents were so damned set on turning me into a “real girl” (their words) that they couldn’t let me be who I actually am and make friends with kids like me.

So, whenever the phrases “for X’s own good” or “in X’s best interest” come up, I get suspicious and wary. Because I know that those phrases pretty much never mean what people say they mean. So unless I’ve told you what would help me or what’s in my best interest, don’t do stuff “for my own good” or “in my best interest.” Chances are, you’re just being self-serving and trying to justify it to yourself. Ask me what’s best for me instead.

On boundaries

Trigger warning: some discussion of emotional abuse and threats of violence

This is going to be a bit of a rambling post that doesn’t really come to a solid conclusion because I haven’t quite figured it all out yet.

See, boundaries are hard for me to write about because I don’t really understand them. I get that they exist and what they’re there for, don’t get me wrong, and I have no problem respecting the boundaries of others. What I have difficulty with is establishing and enforcing my own boundaries.

Why? Well, I guess to best explain that, I’d better paint you a picture of how I grew up.

My parents would only let me shut my bedroom door while I was getting changed. The rest of the time, it had to be open. If they thought it had been closed for too long, they would barge in.

Nobody in the family would respect that my space was mine and nobody else’s. They would just walk in. And I would be the bad one for getting angry at them when everyone else in the house – literally everyone, even toddlers when they were living there – had their own space that they could go to in order to be alone and that everyone, even the parents, would respect by knocking before entering. But I was the eldest and therefore supposed to not have privacy for some reason? I don’t get it.

My mother threatened to call the cops on me once because I got so sick of having people barge in that I arranged furniture across the room to jam the door shut and just stayed there for a day and a half. For no reason other than to send the message that my room is mine and if I really want you out, you’re staying out.

Even though I had a desk in my room where I could work, my parents would make me do homework on the dinner table because they couldn’t stand over my shoulder and nitpick every little thing and make me feel ridiculously self-conscious if I was doing it in my room.

(They wondered why I started lying about whether I had homework and chalked it up to being lazy. No, I wasn’t lazy, I just can’t work when I know someone is watching for my slightest mistake so they can gleefully pounce on it, destroy an hour’s work and command that I start again. Which they did. Because from me, they demanded perfection. They didn’t demand it from my siblings, but I was the eldest and therefore I had to “set a good example” which apparently means doing everything perfectly on the first try.)

Any argument I had with my siblings, I would be punished for. As the eldest, I was supposed to be the “mature” one, with the skill to “defuse” a situation before it got to shouting, and so even if my sibling charged into my room and started hauling me around by my hair – which happened once – I would be the one punished for it. Because I should’ve defused her attempts to grab me by my hair and haul me around somehow. Which amounted to punishing me for having social trouble.

My parents would relay personal information about me to strangers and friends of the family, and not in an appropriate parental way. In a “We’re humiliating our kid for shits and giggles” way, and then they’d punish me if I protested. For example, we’re visiting friends of the family and a toddler gets sick from too much rich food. My parents, rather than help clean up the toddler or what have you, proceed to go into a long story about how when I was 8, I got food poisoning while on a cross-country trip and [insert graphic details played for laughs here].

If I protested them relaying this story and playing it up for laughs, I was informed that everyone gets sick now and then and that I should have more of a sense of humor. When I continued to protest, they grounded me. When I protested their grounding since I thought I should have a right to protest when someone was humiliating me, they threatened to strip me nude and spank me in public and asked how embarrassed I would be then. So I shut up. What I didn’t realize at the time but I do now is that, yes, everyone does get sick now and then, but not everyone has their relatives relay in great graphic detail about times they got sick to complete strangers. Not okay. And I was right to protest. Privacy and dignity are things that should be respected, even by parents of their kids.

Basically, my parents socialized abused me into never standing up for myself and not having any boundaries. Which they then used, when I went off to university, as an excuse to demand that I ask them for permission for everything when I was a legal adult living in my own space over 1000km away. Oh, and they wanted me to follow a curfew, and fax them all my assignments before I handed them in.

Sometime in my first month, one of the people I met said, “You don’t have to ask their permission for everything. You’re an adult and they’re a province away. What are they going to do, ground you?”

Lightbulb.

So I first started just telling them I was going to do stuff, and got into fights with them where they would browbeat me into submission, until I figured out, wait a minute, I don’t have to tell them!

So I stopped telling them.

This has become my strategy for dealing with people like my parents.

My father is easier to deal with than my mother. He is verbally abusive and physically aggressive, yes, but in a straightforward kind of way. I know what to expect from him.

My mother, not so much. She is devious, passive aggressive, and very manipulative. You will be arguing with her about something you want to do, and think you’ve won the argument, and then when the day shows up, she provokes you into a fight or provokes your sibling to pick a fight with you or something, and the next thing you know, you’re delayed so long that you can’t do it, and it all works out exactly as she wanted in the first place.

She’s hard to deal with because I never know what to expect.

However, I recently discovered that I can beat her at her game simply by refusing to play by her rules. Because her rules are, “Mom wins always.” Stacked against me, not fair. Not going to play by those rules.

So, what does this look like in practice? Well, case in point: Trips home. I visit home a couple times a year. It used to be that getting on the bus back was a huge struggle if I wanted to be here on time, and I’d have to plan a few extra days in case my mother decided she wanted me to stay a bit longer. Because I’d take the bus, and it would stop an hour’s drive from my parents’ place. They’d get to the bus stop to pick me up, then drive me home. Later, they’d drive me to the bus stop.

My mother chronically runs an hour late when she doesn’t care about something. When she doesn’t want something to happen, she chronically runs just late enough that she can put on a show of trying to get there on time but still miss it. It used to be a huge fight to get there in time for the bus, and if she wanted me to miss the bus, I’d miss the bus. The pattern here was that the situation always conveniently turned out exactly the way she wanted it.

Last year, I turned 25 and was finally old enough to rent a car without paying a huge surcharge for the crime of being young. So, I decided, “Know what? I’m not going to play by your rules. I’m going to rent a car instead, and then I don’t have to depend on you to get me there in time.” So I did, and it worked.

Last time I visited, she tried parking me in and then “forgetting” where she put her car keys until after dark in order to convince me to stay an extra day. I said, no, I have to be at work tomorrow, so I guess I’m driving after dark. Goodbye.

But the beauty of it was that I didn’t have to get angry or frustrated or shout about it. There was no fight. There was just. “I have to do X because Y. So, I’m going to do X now. Goodbye.”

She tried to turn it into a fight by picking at me about my driving, my age, the fact that my rental would be late anyway (no, because I planned for her making me late to leave and rented it for an extra day, not that I told her that), but in the end it was me saying, “I’m not going to play by your rules on this.” Fighting with her would’ve been playing by her rules, because it would’ve opened things up to her guilt-tripping, emotional blackmail and other verbal abuse techniques.

Maybe that realization – I don’t have to play by her rules – is all there is to setting boundaries. Refusing to play by rules that are stacked against me, and refusing to enter situations that are set up for my failure might be all there is to it. Or a lot of it. I don’t know, I’ll have to think about this more.